Fiction: Dead Men Talking

On the day Teopista decided to marry him, Odwori and her sister Aserena along with three of their cousins decided to cross two ridges to the last funeral rites ceremony in the neighbouring village.

On the day Teopista decided to marry him, Odwori and her sister Aserena along with three of their cousins decided to cross two ridges to the last funeral rites ceremony in the neighbouring village.

There would be dancing to engalabe, Samia drums laced with adungu, a traditional one-string guitar. The bright shine of the early evening moonlight had been playing tricks with the huge mitumba trees on top of a ridge. Their shadows were falling, standing, dancing, and threatening.

They looked like ghosts.
They waited for their parents to sleep and sneaked out of the homestead, careful not to arouse the attention of the goats and the chickens in the kitchen.

They wore their rubber slippers on their hand wrists, till when they were out of the danger of stirring curious ears.

Theopista was not the most striking village belle by far, but she came with a package that would make many a mother envious.

A bust that would comfortably nourish a pair of twins, a neck that would effortlessly balance a pot of water from the well and a pair of strong hands to thrash the copious sorghum grains of their stalks.

Her generous rear needed little encouragement to wiggle along to the rhythm of the drums. It left the boys uncomfortable in places.

She danced with a mystifying tranquillity on her face, the right corner of the lower lip caught between teeth. She needed braveness to approach, which among these boys of fifteen years was a very scarce commodity.

Save for when the braveness was aided by an adulteration. Tots of enguli, the locally distilled spirit, helped to quicken the pace of hot blood through the veins and brought along some artificial courage.

In the midst of the sweating teenage bodies, she chose Odwori. Not because he was handsome. He alone had bothered to look into her eyes.

And saw the yearning.The noise that emanated from the frenzy of the dancing by the charged crowd, succeeded in attracting those who had taken lewd breaks in the nearby banana plantation to practice the business of manufacturing babies.

Perhaps, it was the chants, “Odwori um um, Teopista um um” that rented the air. The adolescent crowd reproduced the sex dance while fully dressed, hands around each others’ waists, rhythmically bumping into each other.  

The moon played tricks with the clouds, darkness then less darkness. The light was dancing, going and coming, covering and penetrating, revealing and hiding. The moon provided the lure and plotted the humiliation.

Theopista did not think about sex. She wished for a long life with a dozen children and a dozen-dozen grandchildren, as she danced with Odwori.

She felt a connection with this boy, barely through secondary school. It didn’t matter. Her primary school education was enough.

She knew how to wash his clothes, to cook his food, to till his gardens, to brew beer for his friends.

She thought that she understood a woman’s life.
Amidst the cacophony of the drumming, the chanting, the madness of the kicking-jumping dancing, flashes of the scene, a few years ago when she had met Odwori, stretched her conviction.

Generally a shy man, he was poor with words. His powerful physical presence, his forceful but playful tone drew you into him.

“One day I will marry you.” She sneered at his words and said back. “Not someone from the same village where I grew up.”

“Who else can tolerate your arrogance?”
“I swear by the grave of my great grand father, the wizard, Never!”

He chased her around the well with her pot balancing precariously on her head. He enjoyed the left-right movements of her body as she struggled to run and prevent the pot from breaking.

Then the pot fell and broke into pieces.
Odwori’s mother had warned him never to fight with women.

It was a sign of weakness in a man. He let her rip his shirt into pieces under the guise of fighting. Later, a warm feeling ran through his torso when he realized that this pot-breaking incident was the closest he had physically come to her.

When she chose this lanky boy, she didn’t think about her grandfather. 

She let him hold her around the waist and touch her breasts. He did it lightly with the tips of his fingers as if he was trying to find an appropriate tune.

It perturbed her that when he had the opportunity he did not struggle to squeeze and touch every part of her body like other boys would have done.

Two weeks later, Teopista, while her family had gone to church, tied two bundles, one full of her clothes, the other of her beddings – you can never trust boys with such things - and eloped.

She arrived while he was taking an afternoon nap. She sneaked into his esimba, a coming of age grass thatched mud hut, with her bundles and told him she wanted to get married.

Odwori woke up from his sleep, dazed, and for a while could not believe his ears, let alone his eyes.

(To be continued)

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